AS WESTERN Bulldogs superstar Ellie Blackburn calmly slotted an on-the-run goal early in the last term to seal the Dogs' AFLW win over Melbourne, the Demons could easily have felt a shock at how their afternoon had panned out.
But they could also take a fair share of the blame.
This felt like a game the Demons were always going to win after they had dominated the contest up until half-time without putting it on the scoreboard. But capitalising on that never came, with their unbeaten start to 2021 ended by a young and tenacious Bulldogs outfit.
BULLDOGS v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
The Dogs' 13-point win was their third in a row after their round one loss to St Kilda, and further showed the growth of Nathan Burke's side as they eventually cruised to the 6.1 (37) to 2.12 (24) victory in a blow to the Dees' premiership ambitions.
Few could have predicted that result given how the game begun.
Melbourne had the better of the opening quarter but was unable to put their dominance on the scoreboard. They registered 10 inside-50 entries for the term to the Bulldogs' one, but that resulted in the Dogs' first goal to Gabby Newton after she won a free kick from close range.
Karen Paxman struck back for the Demons on the run shortly after, but the Dees ended the first quarter just four points ahead despite their control.
The Dogs continued to defy the odds in the second term. A wobbly kick from Jessica Fitzgerald slid through for the only goal of the quarter as the Bulldogs entered the main break ahead by one point.
Melbourne's inefficiency proved costly. By half-time the highly-fancied Demons outfit had recorded a remarkable 21 inside-50s to the Bulldogs' four (of which they had turned into three scores), as well as leading the clearances 15-4.
And yet the Bulldogs just wouldn't surrender.
Plucky beforehand, they started to break the shackles and stretched their lead to five points by three-quarter time in a term that, unlike the previous two, they dominated. Two sharp goals from star forward Issy Huntington were the highlights, with the Demons left with a fourth-quarter fightback to remain undefeated.
But Blackburn, who continued her stellar start to the AFLW season, ended those hopes in the opening five minutes of the final quarter and while doing so sent the red, white and blue faithful into raptures.
Hannah Scott returned to the Bulldogs' line-up for her first game this season and was intent on making an impact. The bustling Bulldog certainly did that in the second term, when she made a run at Lily Mithen as the Demon attempted a tackle. Scott made sure her teammate with the ball wasn't going to be tackled by providing a fierce shepherd and hip and shoulder bump. It was a fair hit and showed the Dogs' physical mindset as Scott put in an impressive first outing of 2021.
Paxman's standout showing
It was quite the performance from Karen Paxman. Not only did she break the goal scoring drought for her side after a slow beginning, but the determined Demons midfielder was everywhere throughout the clash. The hardened veteran was busy from start to finish as the best player on the ground, racking up 27 disposals in a vintage display despite her side's sluggishness.
Grant gets back to Whitten Oval
Chris Grant played 59 of his 341 games at Whitten Oval across his famed Western Bulldogs career, and on Sunday his daughter Issy made her first appearance at the venue. A week after her AFLW debut, Grant was quiet against the Dees with five disposals across the afternoon, but got involved in the play and is still coming to grips with the higher speed of the top level.
There’s an intangible quality that really good teams have that when it’s needed to dig deep they just do it. And so three weeks in a row now the game’s been in the balance in the last quarter and we haven’t let the opposition kick a goal in the last quarter and we’ve come over the top. Everyone knows the importance of that, but it’s having that deep down inside your gut that you want to do it. And that’s what this group has got, which makes my job easy," – Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke
"We generated a lot of opportunities and enough opportunities to win the game, but the conversion was poor today and that cost us. That’s probably the simplest way to look at it. From a broader point of view it was our method – we didn’t enter the forward line that well. The Bulldogs did a good job of slowing us down," – Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
The Bulldogs will be back at their home venue when they host Greater Western Sydney next Saturday afternoon, while Melbourne will meet Collingwood in an intriguing clash at Victoria Park on Sunday.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.0 2.1 4.1 6.1 (37)
MELBOURNE 1.4 1.6 2.8 2.12 (24)
Western Bulldogs: Fitzgerald 2, Huntington 2, Blackburn, McLeod
Melbourne: Paxman, Scott
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Fitzgerald, Hartwig, Huntington, Scott
Melbourne: Paxman, Gay, Scott, Pearce, Lampard
Western Bulldogs: Moody (shoulder)
Crowd: 3180 at Victoria University Whitten Oval
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